The Importance of Sharing Information in Achieving Cross-Sectorial Objectives

By Mr. Blake Williamson, Technical and Content Editor for The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction

From the lessons learned in developing techniques to clear minefields after the Second World War1, to mine action’s inception in Afghanistan 19882, to the creation of International Mine Action Standards (IMAS)3 to address the proliferation of the 21st century’s definitive weapon: the improvised explosive device (IED)4, demining has evolved significantly over the years. Past lessons learned range from proper record keeping; to establishing safety precautions such as sufficient protective equipment, safe standoff distances, and adequate investigation/reporting of accidents/incidents; to the tactics, techniques, and procedures for best disposing of various types of explosives. These topics have been widely discussed by the community and will continue to benefit future deminers and humanitarian mine action (HMA) practitioners around the world.

However, there are other areas of expertise that share objectives with HMA ranging from those intent on reducing explosive, chemical, and toxic remnants of war (i.e., EOD, C-IED, CBRNe), to movements seeking to ban nuclear and autonomous-conventional weapon systems, to organizations addressing the humanitarian issues that accompany post-conflict and disaster environments (e.g., development/victims assistance programs, post-conflict recovery and climate hazard reduction efforts, and rights-based advocacy groups). These areas have developed their own nuanced skillsets to meet the rising challenges of their respective fields. Moreover, the expertise shared among agencies with common goals has cross-sectoral value that can improve the operational knowledge and synergy among those professions who are interested in reducing the threat of various hazards, armed violence, and other threats to communities, while advocating and educating for meaningful policy changes and better practices for people living with explosive, chemical, and toxic contamination.

In instances where different organizations find their efforts coinciding with those from other fields, the importance of knowing how to best employ individual capabilities in order to complement the strengths and weakness of everyone involved cannot be understated; this is particularly noticeable in military-civilian partnerships. In his article “HMA in the Gray Zone,” Lt. Col Shawn Kadlec describes the nebulous operational spaces neither at peace nor free of armed conflict in which the military and civilian organizations need to cooperate.5 This concept is also explored by Guy Rhodes, who indicates that IEDs within “active settings” where “no humanitarian access is possible” remain the purview of security forces.6 Similarly, when organizations or individuals conduct comparable activities or pursue similar objectives, there is a tangible risk of duplicative efforts if past lessons learned were insufficiently documented or shared with the larger community.7 Without regular dialogue between practitioners in the field conducting work on-the-ground and researchers investigating new methods and technologies, valuable resources are often used inefficiently, especially when problems are not clearly understood.8 Through information and knowledge exchange we can achieve a unity of understanding to help organizations leverage strengths to complete shared goals.

By freely sharing their experiences, from the challenges they’ve faced to the solutions they’ve employed and data they’ve gathered, communities of practice from CBRNe to HMA all benefit from the sort of collaborative information sharing made easier by publications such as the C-IED Report, NCT Magazine, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, Mine Action Review, The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction, and more. Additionally, periodic meetings and workshops such as the international Mine Action Symposium coordinated by the Croatian Mine Action Centre, the biennial Mine Action Technology Workshop organized by the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, and the annual meetings of National Mine Action Directors’ and UN Advisors in Geneva are integral to the information sharing process, providing opportunities to seek assistance, call for action, and report successes, all with the goal of improving the performance and safety of each sector.

Established in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Defense to share information between the military and NGOs focused on humanitarian demining, the Mine Action Information Center, which is now known as the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR), created The Journal to report on the activities of different operators and the status of mine-impacted countries, and to continue the conversation on understanding the inter-relationship among donors, authorities, and implementing partners in order to better address the technical requirements and prescribed standards of mine action operations. Journal submissions involving new technologies undergo a peer-review process in which subject-matter experts have opportunities to appraise and critique incoming content before publication, as this practice helps to ensure that submitted materials are considered carefully and, inversely, provides contributors with input from experienced HMA professionals.

All 24 issues of The Journal are freely available online via Issuu.com and James Madison University’s Scholarly Commons. Moreover, CISR also maintains the Global CWD Repository, which provides a free, publicly accessible online archive for users to share and reference information on demining. Also housed at JMU on the Scholarly Commons library platform, the scope of these records, from the early days of typed reports, hand-drawn maps, and personal accounts to today’s digitized maps, sophisticated databases, and information dashboards are preserved and easily accessible for practitioners.

Another ongoing challenge albeit an integral element of improving the safety of HMA and related fields is the role that information sharing plays in demining accidents and incidents. Only by sharing and studying accurate accident and incident records can communities learn how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Protective equipment may reduce injury, but avoiding accidents is the only way to prevent injury. In the early 2000s, HMA specialist Andy Smith started the Database of Demining Accidents (DDAS), which gathered detailed information as it became available.9 The DDAS has since been transferred to CISR as the Accident and Incident Database on the Global CWD Repository and contains over 800 accident reports dating from 1977–2019. However, IMAS 10.60 was recently revised10 while the IMAS Review Board, mine action operators, and donors consider the need for a universal reporting mechanism for all demining accidents and incidents. The desired reporting schema would be a useful learning tool for the community, one that takes into consideration time constraints, privacy issues, and desired outcomes in terms of reporting.

The advantage of formal information sharing is that it reaches a greater audience and can be preserved for the benefit of future operators. The value of information preservation and exchange cannot be overrated in fields such as ours, where evidence is crucial to knowing where we have been, where we are now, and where we can go in the future.

Blake Williamson joined the CISR staff in 2010 as an Editorial Assistant. In 2012, he graduated from James Madison University with a Bachelor of Science in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication. He’s currently the Technical and Content Editor for The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction and manages the Research & Development section of The Journal.

1 Evans, Roly, “World War II Coastal Minefields in the United Kingdom,” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction 21, no. 1 (April 2017): 33–41. 2 Mansfield, Ian, “Humanitarian Mine Action in Afghanistan: A History,” The Journal of ERW and Mine Action 19, no. 3 (December 2015): 42–47. 3 Rhodes, Guy, “Improvised Explosive Devices and the International Mine Action Standards,” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction 21, no. 3 (November 2017): 4–8. 4 Overton, Iain, “The IED: Past, Present and Future” presentation, Action on Armed Violence, October 15, 2020. 5 Kadlec, Shawn, “HMA in the Gray Zone,” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction 23, no. 3 (January 2020): 5–9. 6 Rhodes, Guy, “Improvised Explosive Devices and the International Mine Action Standards,” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction 21, no. 3 (November 2017): 4–8. 7 Fardoulis, John, Xavier Depreytere, “Time to Stem Lightweight Approaches and Focus on Real Minefield Data?” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction, 24, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2020). 8 Gasser, Russel, “Technology Research in Mine Action: Enough is Enough,” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction 20, no. 1 (March 2016): 6–9. 9 Smith, Andy, “The Database of Demining Accidents: A Driving Force in HMA,” The Journal of ERW and Mine Action 15, no.2 (Summer 2011): 30–36. 10 Evans, Roly, “International Mine Action Standard 10.60 Safety & Occupational Health – Investigation and Reporting of Accidents and Incidents,” The Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction, 24, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2020).